UK adoption law for parents outside the UK

pair of sneakersSome parents who live outside the UK need to know how UK adoption law applies to them.  This might be because you wish to adopt a child from the UK, or because you have already adopted a child overseas and need to know whether your adoption is recognised in the UK and whether your child can become British.

Can I apply to adopt a UK child if I live overseas?

This may be legally possible, depending on your circumstances, but finding a match with a child based in the UK may be difficult, unless the child you want to adopt is already known to you (for example, a relative).

Domestic UK adoption
One option is to apply for a domestic UK adoption order.  This is legally possible if you have a domicile in England and Wales (for example if you are British and living overseas on a temporary work placement or a military posting). Domicile is an often misunderstood UK legal concept. It relates, not to where you are living or your citizenship status, but to a much wider assessment of where your permanent home is.  There is no simple checklist for confirming domicile; the court looks at all the facts and takes into account anything that it considers relevant.

The challenge with applying for UK adoption whilst based abroad is in the practical side of being assessed, and finding a match. You will need to have a home in the UK of some kind during the assessment process, and to be available in the UK to be assessed. Find out more about the process of applying for UK adoption.

Hague Convention adoptions
If you are not domiciled or resident in the UK you will have to follow the Hague Convention procedures to adopt a UK child (and you may wish to do this in any event so that your UK adoption order is recognised in the country where you are living).  If you apply using the Hague Convention procedures, you will need to first apply to be assessed in your country of residence.  If you are approved for adoption, the Central Authority in your home country will liaise with the UK Department of Education to approve you for intercountry adoption in the UK.  Generally, few if any UK children are placed on the list for outgoing Hague Convention adoptions, so finding a match may be difficult or impossible unless the child you wish to adopt is already known to you.

Will my non-UK adoption order be recognised in the UK?

If you have adopted a child in another country, your overseas adoption order will be automatically recognised in the UK if:

  • your adoption order was made in a country which is on the Designated List or is a member of the 1993 Hague Convention (although you will need to check the legal position at the date your adoption order was made), and
  • you have engaged with the necessary regulations overseas.

If the country is not part of the Hague Convention or on the Designated List you will need to separately apply in the UK to have your adoption order recognised here.

Is my adopted child a British citizen?

Your overseas adoption order might not automatically confer British nationality on your child even if it is otherwise recognised in the UK, depending on the circumstances. If it does not, you can make an application to the Home Secretary for your child to be registered as a British citizen on a discretionary basis if either adoptive parent is British. Alternatively, you can apply for an adoption order in the UK, which will make your child British if either adopting parent is British.

Have we answered your question? Would you like advice on your personal circumstances?

Email us at or call on 020 3701 5915 and we will explain how we can help.